Early results in the UK “Brexit” vote are showing unquestionably that the referendum is much, much closer than we thought yesterday.
At this point in time, it is looking increasingly possible that the UK has, in fact, voted to Leave.
Whatever has happened in reality, we can now clearly state that this will NOT be a big or biggish win for Remain as we predicted, with what definitely appears was foolish over-confidence. It might well become a win for Leave as the night goes on, or if Remain do stumble over the line it will be only just, and probably with the help of a large Remain vote in Scotland, London, and parts of the South East.
Some early assumptions can be made with confidence:
The “working class” in England and South Wales has voted significantly more heavily for Leave than was expected.
The BBC’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has put the referendum result into a historical context. His opinion is its set to the biggest uprising against the people who run the UK since the Peasants Revolt in 1381.
This may be for two reasons.
Firstly, the working class may well be (indeed, almost certainly are) using the referendum to express generalised dis-satisfaction with the sitting Conservative government, and David Cameron and George Osborne in particular, and even with the general conduct of democracy in the modern era, full stop.
In particular, working class resentment over population movement and immigration has been ignored for too long. We do not believe that the bulk of Britain’s working class are racists, although there are some, without question. But they are increasingly anxious about the pace of change, and concerned about their terms and conditions of employment. Immigration is an easy target on which to blame the effect of austerity measures.
Secondly, the Labour Party in the UK, which delivered very mealy-mouthed leadership on the issue, has seen its call to Remain steadfastly ignored by its own supporters, delineating again, if further evidence was needed, that the working class is much less “ironed on” to Labour than it used to be.
The Scottish turnout seems to be lower than might have been expected, and that is probably a result of what people will call “referendum fatigue”. Nevertheless, the Scottish National Party’s strong “Remain” position seems to have substantially carried the day north of the border.
Wales – the area of the UK that probably benefits most from EU largesse – has nevertheless voted in large numbers for Leave. This again looks like a failure of the Labour Party to turn out its vote or a result of strong dis-satisfaction in industrial areas like the South Wellian valleys, Swansea and elsewhere, although the capital Cardiff seems to have voted for Remain.
Even in areas like Southampton and Portsmouth in the South, Leave votes are piling up in working class areas in those major urbanised areas. And as this is about the total votes cast one way or the other, that is bad news for Remain.
Even areas of the South that cannot possibly be considered “urban”, such as West Dorset and the Isle of Wight, have voted for Leave.
Big Remain votes in inner London could just turn it round for the IN campaign, but that may be the wishful thinking on behalf of the Remain camp. Interestingly there is a marked difference between the inner core of London and the East End and Essex. The more culturally polyglot centre of London might back Remain, but the old-style working class areas on the fringes are voting to back Leave.
Turnout in London is high (as it is in the rest of the country) and that has to be good for democracy – at least whoever wins will legitimately be able to claim a mandate.
The natural reversion to the status quo which we predicted appears – very rarely – to have been largely ignored. This may be one of those very, very unusual occasions when the people overturn the tables in the Temple and send the moneylenders packing.
What this is, unquestionably, is a victory for those who ran a highly effective scare campaign about the EU. Likely results of a Leave win will be very significant economic disruption, including a run on Sterling, and depression of stock markets worldwide. Indeed, Sterling and the Market futures are currently down about 5%, to levels not seen since 2009. The Bank of England may well have to intervene in the morning to create stability. Whether losses will be fixed up as the dust settles it is too early to say. There is little doubt that part of the story in the next 24-48 hours will be huge market volatility.
Whatever the result as the night in the UK wears on, one thing becomes very clear. Britain is split right down the middle, and the disputation of the last few weeks (in particular) needs to be addressed.
Likely winners out of this situation? Definitely Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, one of whom will very likely replace David Cameron sooner rather than later if Leave prevail, or even do very well. In either case, their stock will be boosted. For Prime Minister Cameron, calling this referendum may well come to be be seen as “the longest suicide in history”, to steal a term from earlier days.
A renewed call for the Labour Party to replace its current leadership team is very possible. Corbyn has completely failed to enunciate a Labour argument for “In”, and it could see the beginning of the end for his improbable tilt at history.
If Leave succeeds, Nigel Farage, even more improbably, will go down as one of the most historically significant British politicians of the post World War 2 period.
And the European Union will never be the same whatever happens.
What is not generally understood by many people is that if Leave HAS won, this would just be the beginning of a long, tortuous process to untangle a fiscal, trade and regulatory mess. It will be years before a “Brexit” can actually be achieved, (at least two years), and what that would look like has not be explained in any detail by its proponents. Sadly, this is one that will run and run.
We’ll be back if we have anything else intelligent to say, beyond “We read that utterly wrong in predicting a big Remain win”.
Which is the wonder of democracy. No one can ever take the electorate for granted.
And that’s a really good thing, whatever side you’re on.